Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
PZC considers commercial zone for Mile Hill Road parcel

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
October 6, 2006

VERNON - A local development company is asking the Planning and Zoning Commission to grant a commercial zone designation to a Mile Hill Road parcel being considered for a regional YMCA center.

Galaxy Development Inc., which has an office at 30 Lafayette Square, is asking the commission to change the 8.8-acre parcel's zoning from residential to commercial. The proposed zone change would not involve the other portion of the parcel, roughly 7 acres, which is located in Tolland.

Galaxy's lawyer, Leonard Jacobs, told the PZC Thursday that the site was not suitable for residential development because it is adjacent to Interstate 84. Jacobs said the town's Plan of Conservation and Development calls for that parcel, which is owned by W.W. Enterprises of Manchester, to be developed into some sort of mixed-use.

But the site is not suitable for the recently created Planned Development Zone because the new regulations state that a parcel must be at least 40-acres for consideration in that classification, Jacobs said.

Jacobs said there are no formal development proposals for that site.

Earlier this year, the site was under consideration for a regional YMCA center, but plans for the YMCA to locate in Vernon were put on hold after the Town Council balked at making the necessary infrastructure improvements to accommodate the new building.

Jacobs said Galaxy has had discussions with YMCA of Greater Hartford officials, but no agreement has been reached.

"If at the end of the day, the site can't be developed and you don't change that, it's a park," Jacobs said. "I am trusting this commission to recognize you shouldn't be sitting there with the attitude, 'Hey, I don't care if they can't develop this piece.'"

Commercial development in the northeast part of town has been a sore spot for residents in recent years, with proposals on nearby land for both a Home Depot and a Wal-Mart Supercenter being met with strong public opposition.

Residents were given the chance to speak during Thursday night's public hearing, but elected to wait until the commission's Nov. 2 meeting, when Galaxy is expected to offer up testimony on the zone change's potential traffic impact.

Meanwhile. Tolland officials, and representatives from a regional council of municipal governments, have already expressed concerns about the plan.

Members of the Capitol Region Council of Government's regional planning commission said they were concerned about a commercial use on the site being inconsistent with residential neighborhoods in neighboring Tolland.

And Linda Farmer, Tolland's director of planning and community development, said she was concerned about how the zone change might affect nearby natural resources.

"Ideally, there should be a transition zone between Tolland's low density residential and any intense commercial use," Farmer wrote in a letter to the commission Thursday. "Extensive buffering will be needed to protect the semi-rural character of this neighborhood and the lifestyles of those that reside there with special attention given to the significant topography and viewsheds in the area."

Although he, too, said he has concerns about the compatibility of a commercial zone on the 8.8-acre site, Vernon Town Planner Neil S. Pade said the PZC should consider some sort of transitional zone for that parcel.

©Journal Inquirer 2006